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Clerk killing suspects caught after 3-county chase

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Two teenagers connected to the shooting death of a St. Augustine store clerk were caught by police off U.S. 17 in Green Cove Springs after a high speed chase that went through three counties.

According to the Clay County Sheriff's Office, the two suspects are believed to be 16 years old. They led police through St. Johns, Putnam and Clay counties before they were stopped on U.S. 17 by a deputy's PIT maneuver.

According to police, the clerk at Tobacco Express on Masters Drive was shot in the head while the store was being robbed.

They fled the scene, and a Putnam County Sheriff's deputy in a cruiser spotted the suspects while driving down U.S. 17, deputies said. When the deputy, 37-year-old Benjamin Boots, tried to turn around and give chase, the deputy's cruiser was hit by another car from behind. That car was driven by 20-year-old Tyler Messom, who had a 10-year-old girl in the car. No one was injured in the crash.

Putnam County sheriff's deputies and Palatka police officers continued to chase the two juveniles through Putnam County, and the suspects were finally stopped in Green Cove Springs in a black Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been stolen from another county, officials said. Clay County sheriff's deputies and a host of other law enforcement agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol, joined in the pursuit. No one was injured in the chase and the teens were caught without further incident.

"I'm just hopeful that at some time, these acts of violence will stop, because there are no winners. For the culprit nor the person on the other end. There are no winners. We have got to stop," Felecia Hampshire, former mayor of Green Cove Springs, said.   

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According to officials, a vendor and witnesses were inside the Tobacco Express on Masters Drive in St. Augustine at 2 p.m. when a man came into the store wearing a blue hoodie and red bandana and shot the clerk in the head.

The victim, who was described as an Indian man in his 30s, died at the scene, police said. His wife has been notified. 

The store remained closed Tuesday night friends and family have already started making a memorial for the man killed inside.

"We were there 10 minutes before it happened. We might not be standing here, who knows, and for him, such a nice guy. Just moved here, knew everyone by name. He was just here a couple of months, (it's) just sad," said Beth Wilder, who lives next to the tobacco store. 

Sources said that the man and his wife were new to Jacksonville and had just moved into town from North Carolina.

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Sources said that the man and his wife were new to Jacksonville and had just moved into town from North Carolina.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, along with the St. Augustine Police Department and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, are investigating the situation as an apparent robbery and homicide.

According to police, the two teens will be booked in Clay County and could face charges of fleeing, eluding and resisting officers. 

As for Hampshire, she said that while teen violence is definitely a problem, police officers are in the area doing a good job. 

"I can say this, on a good note, that Green Cove Springs and Clay County are fortunate to have some really good men and woman who protect us every day, we're very fortunate. Green Cove and Clay County's finest are doing what they are supposed to be doing right now, and I'm proud of those men and woman," Hampshire said.